Mechanical Components

Miniature Blimps for Surveillance and Collection of Samples

These robots could follow complex three-dimensional trajectories through buildings. Miniature blimps are under development as robots for use in exploring the thick, cold, nitrogen atmosphere of Saturn's moon, Titan. Similar blimps can also be used for surveillance and collection of biochemical samples in buildings, caves, subways, and other, similar structures on Earth. The widely perceived need for means to thwart attacks on buildings and to mitigate the effects of such attacks has prompted consideration of the use of robots. Relative to "rover"-type (wheeled) robots that have been considered for such uses, miniature blimps offer the advantage of ability to move through the air in any direction and, hence, to perform tasks that are difficult or impossible for wheeled robots, including climbing stairs and looking through windows. In addition, miniature blimps are expected to have greater range and to cost less, relative to wheeled robots.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Miniature Ring-Shaped Perisaltic Pump

Piezoelectrically excited fluid-transport volumes travel around a ring. An experimental miniature peristaltic pump exploits piezoelectrically excited flexural waves that travel around a ring: A fluid is carried in the containers formed in the valleys between the peaks of the flexural waves (see Figure 1). The basic action of this pump is similar to that described in "Piezoelectric Flexural- Traveling- Wave Pumps" (NPO-19737), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 21, No. 4 (April 1997), page 66.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Miniature Robotic Spacecraft for Inspecting Other Spacecraft

A report discusses the Miniature Autonomous Extravehicular Robotic Camera (Mini AERCam) — a compact robotic spacecraft intended to be released from a larger spacecraft for exterior visual inspection of the larger spacecraft. The Mini AERCam is a successor to the AERCam Sprint — a prior miniature robotic inspection spacecraft that was demonstrated in a space-shuttle flight experiment in 1997. The prototype of the Mini AERCam is a demonstration unit having approximately the form and function of a flight system. The Mini AERCam is approximately spherical with a diameter of about 7.5 in. (»19 cm) and a weight of about 10 lb (»4.5 kg), yet it has significant additional capabilities, relative to the 14-in. (36-cm), 35-lb (16-kg) AERCam Sprint. The Mini AERCam includes miniaturized avionics, instrumentation, communications, navigation, imaging, power, and propulsion subsystems, including two digital video cameras and a high-resolution still camera. The Mini AERCam is designed for either remote piloting or supervised autonomous operations, including station keeping and point-to-point maneuvering. The prototype has been tested on an air-bearing table and in a hardware-in-the-loop orbital simulation of the dynamics of maneuvering in proximity to the International Space Station.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Solar Array Panels With Dust-Removal Capability

Inexpensive, low-power piezoelectric buzzers would be built in. It has been proposed to incorporate piezoelectric vibrational actuators into the structural supports of solar photovoltaic panels, for the purpose of occasionally inducing vibrations in the panels in order to loosen accumulated dust. Provided that the panels were tilted, the loosened dust would slide off under its own weight. Originally aimed at preventing obscuration of photovoltaic cells by dust accumulating in the Martian environment, the proposal may also offer an option for the design of solar photovoltaic panels for unattended operation at remote locations on Earth.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Blade-Pitch Control for Quieting Tilt-Rotor Aircraft

Actively induced harmonic blade-pitch oscillations reduce BVI noise. A method of reducing the noise generated by a tilt-rotor aircraft during descent involves active control of the blade pitch of the rotors. This method is related to prior such noise- reduction methods, of a type denoted generally as higher-harmonic control (HHC), in which the blade pitch is made to oscillate at a harmonic of the frequency of rotation of the rotor.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Farm Equipment Manufacturer Shortens Design Cycle With Analysis Software

The design of new tilling machinery is accelerated using finite element analysis software. Humans have been using tools to make farming easier since the dawn of civilization. Since the turn of the 20th century, the growing use of mechanized power to till and sow fields has enabled farmers to realize incredible efficiency gains in the production of low-cost, safe, and nutritious foods and other crops, such as fibers. Today, bigger machines require less manpower to plant the crops that feed and clothe a swelling world population.

Posted in: Machinery & Automation, Mechanical Components, Briefs

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Attitude Control for a Solar-Sail Spacecraft

A report describes the personal radiation protection system (PRPS), which has been invented for use on the International Space Station and other spacecraft. The PRPS comprises walls that can be erected inside spacecraft, where and when needed, to reduce the amount of radiation to which personnel are exposed. The basic structural modules of the PRPS are pairs of 1-in. (2.54-cm)-thick plates of high-density polyethylene equipped with fasteners. The plates of each module are assembled with a lap joint. The modules are denoted bricks. A report discusses the attitude-control system of a proposed spacecraft that would derive at least part of its propulsion from a solar sail. The spacecraft would include a bus module containing three or more reaction wheels, a boom attached at one end to the bus module and attached at its other end to a two-degree-of-freedom (DOF) gimbal at the nominal center of mass of a sail module. Each DOF of the gimbal could be independently locked against rotation or allowed to rotate freely. By using the reaction wheels to rotate the bus when at least one gimbal DOF was in the free state, the center of mass (CM) of the spacecraft could be shifted relative to the center of pressure (CP) on the solar sail. The resulting offset between the CM and CP would result in a solar torque, which could be used to change the attitude of the spacecraft. The report discusses numerous aspects of the dynamics and kinematics of the spacecraft, along with the relationships between these aspects and the designs of such attitude-control-system components as sensors, motors, brakes, clutches, and gimbals.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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